Monday, 27 March 2017

Francis Lovell after the Battle of Stoke

On 16th June 1487, a battle took place between Yorkist rebels, led by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, and Francis Lovell, Viscount Lovell, and Gerald FitzGerald, the Earl of Kildare, and Henry VII`s forces, led by Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford, and John de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

The battle, often said to be the last one of the conflicts now known as the Wars of the Roses, hung in balance for a long time and lasted longer than the Battle of Bosworth had two years earlier. When it was over, however, it had turned out to be a crushing defeat for the Yorkists. John de la Pole was killed either in battle or directly afterwards, as were the Earl of Kildare and most German and Irish mercenaries who had been in their employ. Many Yorkist fighters, trying to flee after the battle, were cornered in a ravine and killed there.

Of all the notable Yorkists at the battle, only Francis managed to survive. He was said to have been "discomfited and fled", but he vanished almost immediately afterwards, and nothing is certain about his whereabouts afterwards. There are several possibilites what might have happened to him.

(1) The first one, which must be mentioned, is that he did in fact die at Stoke, and his body was simply not identified. This is said by Vergil, but by no one else, and it is explicitly contradicted by the above-mentioned contemporary statement in the York City Records, which stated he was “discomfited and fled”. It also fails to take into account that at least for a short time afterwards, he was assumed to be alive by allies, such as Edward Franke, who almost certainly fought at Stoke and in 1488 was employed by Francis`s wife to find him. It seems very unlikely, therefore, that he did in fact die during the battle.

(2) The second possibility is that he died escaping from the battlefield after the Battle of Stoke. This is the version of Hall and Holinshed, and it`s at least a little more likely. For one, it does not directly contradict the “discomfited and fled” statement- because, after all, there is no information about what happened during or after the flight. Also, swimming in full armour - with a horse also likely in full armour - after an exhausting battle and fleeing from those trying to take him prisoner could easily have killed him. However, like the first possibility, this theory leaves several questions open, such as why people like Franke did not know of his death, and why he was not listed as a casualty of the battle if he died immediately afterwards, in direct consequence of it.

(3) The third possibility is a very popular one especially in popular history, and repeated for example by Paul Murray Kendall. It is that Francis escaped the battlefield after the battle, went to his ancestral home and died at Minster Lovell Hall. There were supposedly bones found in a secret chamber at Minster Lovell Hall in the early eighteenth century, but that is really all that suggests he might have gone there. The story, as it is usually told, is that these bones fell to dust nearly immediately after the chamber was opened, and we have no first-hand account of this happening. Even if it didl, though, it seems unlikely that those bones were Francis`s. If he had been injured,he would not have ridden about 100 miles so he could hide in a secret chamber in a manor which was at that point owned by the new king`s uncle, where there is little indication he even spent much time when it belonged to him, and where he would not have been in the position to receive any treatment for wounds. And if he was not injured, there would have been no reason for him to go to a manor owned by the new king`s uncle just so he could hide away in a secret chamber and never leave it again.

(4) The fourth possibility, resembling the previous one somewhat but far less popular - also not, as far as I know, repeated in any academic work, only on several sites on the internet - is that hee escaped after the battle, went to Stoke Bardolph Castle, which had been his mother`s, and died there soon afterwards, presumably of injuries got during the battle. This is somewhat more plausible, as at least that castle is somewhat nearer the battle field than Minster Lovell Hall and may have been the first or nearest place he could find to seek treatment for wounds without being sold out to the king`s men. The assumption this is what could have happened is based mainly on a grave in Gelding Church, which was discovered in about the nineteenth century and which was dated to about the right time and whose effigy was said to be possibly that of a knight who fought at Stoke. It is that which makes the assumption a bit questionable to me. The grave would have been nameless so as to make sure Francis would remain buried in hallowed ground, rather than his body being found and publicly displayed. It would therefore be somewhat paradoxical to add an effigy to it which could even centuries later be recognised as that of a rebel knight who`d fought at Stoke. Henry`s government wasn`t stupid, and that leap of logic would hardly have been difficult to make. So while this is distinctly more possible than the first options, I still don`t think it very likely.

(5) The fifth possibility, and in my opinion the most likely, is that he did not die in England, but escaped after the battle and once more fled to Burgundy, where he died between that time and summer 1488. He might have sustained a minor injury at Stoke, which, lacking proper care, might have become infected on the way to Burgundy and killed him soon afterwards, or he could have simply died of illness during the year. Him being there would make more sense of  him being included in the list of rebels to be given a safe-conduct to Scotland by the new Scottish king James IV on 19th June 1488 than him, without any support, asking for it while at the same time flying under the radar in England. Since there is an indication Margaret of York was involved in securing those safe-conducts, it seems likely she would have known Francis was still alive at the time she started asking for them. This would also make sense of there being no indication of any kind of his death or any certainty he was dead. In England, men like Edward Franke would have only known he had been alive last time he had seen him, and Margaret would have had no reason to announce his death to anyone. There would have been no one to announce it to, and perhaps she might have even thought it prudent to keep Henry`s government in the dark as much as possible as to the number and state of the rebels at her court and roaming Europe.

(6) The sixth possibility is also a popular one, namely that he escaped after the battle and fled to Scotland, possibly via Burgundy, and died before 1492. This, in my opinion, is the second most likely thing to have happened. After all, there was a safe-conduct, and it would have been the obvious place for him to go. There is just the problem that unlike for several other rebels of any prominence who received a safe-conduct, there is no real indication he ever arrived in Scotland. The only piece of evidence he might have is that a  "poor and simple man" of York said in 1491 he had spoken with him and Thomas Broughton, who had equally received a safe-conduct, in Scotland. However, the man later recanted, and there is no explanation offered as to how he would have managed to go to Scotland to speak with them in the first place.

(7) The seventh possibility is that he escaped after the battle and lived in hiding somewhere for the rest of a life that went on past 1492, possibly in Burgundy, Scotland or - with Maximilian of Burgundy`s help - the Holy Roman Empire, leaving England behind and no longer caring. It`s a possibility, but in my opinion not a very likely one. It would be a 180° turn to what he had been doing the previous years, and it doesn´t seem very likely he would suddenly decide to settle down peacefully and accept the status quo, not even joining in a rebellion, that of Warbeck, some years later that seemed extremely promising. To explain this, there are theories he vanished together with John of Gloucester, and that the safety of Richard`s son was more important to him than seeking revenge. However, while this is psychologically plausible enough, it seems a bit far-fetched he could manage to reach John of Gloucester, who was probably watched, and vanish with him without there even being even a rumour of it. Nor is there any indication Henry VII made any search for John of Gloucester, which would have been the natural thing to do for him had he vanished and Henry not known where to. It also would not explain why there was never a mention made of Francis or John anywhere that we know of, as mentioned above, unlike other exiles.

(8) He escaped after the battle and lived in hiding somewhere the rest of his life, no longer fighting because he had sustained an injury that rendered him unable to do so. This could have been the loss of an arm or a leg or his eyesight. However, while he might have been injured, such a major injury would presumably have needed immediate medical attention, so his flight over the river argues against it. The only possibility that seems likely is that it was a minor injury to perhaps his hand or foot, which became infected later after he had already fled to safety, and the only way to save his life was considered amputating his arm or leg. He would, however, have been extremely lucky to survive such an operation in his time, and again it does not explain why he was never mentioned again if he lived in exile.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Francis`s friendship with Richard III

In a first report after the Battle of Boworth, Francis Lovell and John de la Pole were erroneously named among the dead. At least for the latter, this was almost certainly a political move, to prevent anyone from immediately rallying behind Richard`s heir, who with his death was de jure king, and throw all of Henry Tudor`s enemies into confusion. In reality, John was not only not dead, he was not present at the battle.

There is less certainty about why Francis was named as dead.That it had a political motive is contradicted by Francis`s inclusion as alive in William Catesby`s will, made shortly before his execution three days after the battle. There was no attempt made to censor this will or not have its contents known to those who could be potential enemies. This suggests that Francis being named dead was an honest mistake, and seems to confirm that despite speculation to the contrary, he did fight at Bosworth. That is also supported by the suggestion that Francis arrived at St.John`s Abbey in Colchester, where he was to stay in sanctuary for the next months, together with Humphrey and Thomas Stafford, who definitely were at the battle.

In that case, Francis`s survival is notable, as it seems to indicate that he did not ride alongside Richard during his last charge, as those known to have done, like his secretary John Kendall and his comptroller Robert Percy, all died with him. Even had Francis managed to avoid that fate, he would have found himself surrounded by enemy fighters and been almost certainly been taken prisoner. He was the only man of those close to Richard who were present and yet did not join his last charge. Either this was because he had been seperated from Richard earlier and was physically incapable of joining him, or it was a last gesture of affection from Richard towards his friend, trying to make sure that even if his charge failed and he died, Francis would live.

A last gesture of affection shortly before Richard`s death, which is unconfirmed and which we are unlikely to ever learn for a fact, but which would fit very well into the relationship the two men enjoyed, which was clearly marked by mutual love and trust.

The greatest, most obvious sign of this is, naturally, Francis`s steadfast refusal to stop trying to avenge Richard after his death. Instead of trying to make peace with Henry VII or even taking the pardon offered to him by the new king, as noted by Anne Sutton and Livia Visser-Fuchs, Francis chose to rather be attainted than break his loyalty to Richard. He then was involved in staging two rebellions, the first one in 1486 without even a rival claimant to the throne, and one assassination attempt, until he vanished and probably died after the Battle of Stoke in 1487.

While it is hard to top such a display of loyalty and affection, there were other signs of such. Notably, Richard almost certainly used his influence with his brother Edward IV to see Francis elevated to viscouncy. The only other option is particularly distinguished service during the fighting against the Scots in the years from 1480-2, which Richard of Gloucester was praised for in Parliament that year. However, since many men of higher birth, such as the king`s cousin (and Francis`s brother-in-law) were equally present during the fighting, it seems that either Francis did something particularly remarkable, which is possible but for which no evidence exists, or that it was indeed Richard who was responsible for this. This is especially interesting as it was a signal honour, bestowed on only one other man during Edward`s reign.

Richard also saw to it Francis was given a position of honour in his coronation procession, among men of much higher standing, such as the Duke of Suffolk, his son the Earl of Lincoln, the Duke of Norfolk and his son, the Earl of Surrey. As Anne Sutton and P.W.Hammond note in their book
“The Coronation of Richard III: The Extant Documents”, he was the only one in Richard`s immediate train to have been given his role - as bearer of the "third sword" - not for any political reason, but for personal affection. They also note that his place should have been in the queen`s train but this was explicitly changed for him, for no other obvious reason than Richard wishing to honour him.

Richard also chose him, probably in his position as lord chamberlain which gave him control over Richard`s money, to purchase the ring needed for the coronation of his wife, Queen Anne. While the task in itself was nothing very out of the ordinary, it is notable that, as mentioned in the above-named book, there is an indication Richard wished it to be especially stressed the ring had been purchased by Francis and even personally wrote a note about it.

Francis continued to be favoured and placed in positions of trust by Richard all during Richard`s reign. Not only did Richard make him lord chamberlain - the same post William Hastings had held under Edward IV - which was a job neccessitating, as Charles Ross states, close personal contact on a daily basis with the king, he also gave him military jobs during both the Buckingham rebellion and the Tudor invasion. During the latter, he was to guard the coast ast Southhampton, which he did but which sadly failed to stop the invasion as Henry Tudor was tipped off.

Richard even continued the signs of personal favour for Francis for no political reason during his reign, such as he did when he chose to stay in Francis`s ancestral home of Minster Lovell Hall during his 1483 progress, making it the only personal home of a courtier he stayed in. This was despite the fact that the manor did not have a place of strategic importance from where he could have easily ridden out to larger cities. Richard stayed there as Francis`s guest for four days, according to John Ashdown-Hill, which was longer than he stayed in most cities he visited on that progress.

Naturally, less survives about their relationship before Richard became king, when they were less in the limelight, but even so we have evidence as to their close relationship. When Richard knighted Francis in 1481 - coincidentally, on the 22nd August - he then gave him special permission to knight to other men himself. At least one of those - Richard Ratcliffe - had at that point a known connection with Richard but not Francis, which suggests that allowing Francis to knight him was a special honour to please a friend, not done out of a wish to acknowledge the bond between Francis and Richard Ratcliffe.

Since Francis`s whereabouts in the 1470s are largely unknown, we sadly cannot say when the friendship of the two men started, if it was during childhhod/adolescence as is often assumed or later, but from 1480, when Francis, then 24, starts turning up in more sources than before, it can be assumed that they were close, as almost every time Francis`s whereabouts are known, he was with Richard.

Sadly, we cannot know what it was that made them become so close. It can be speculated that it were shared interests, for we do know that both men enjoyed hunting and Francis, like Richard, appears to have been very pious and have had an interest in scholarship - Francis sponsored a scholar at Magdalen College, among other things - but it can no longer be said with any certainty.

It can be said, however, that clearly the two men enjoyed a very close and loving friendship

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The strange case of John Lovell

On 18th March 1455, William Lovell, future grandfather of Francis, began making his will, adding two codicils on 5th June 1455, shortly before his death on 13th June of the same year. His oldest son John was at the Inquisition Postmortem said to have been twenty two at the moment of his father`s death; the ages of his younger sons William, Robert and Henry were not given, but at least the two youngest would definitely not have been of age., and it is doubtful if William was.

It were, naturally, his sons William was most concerned with when making his will, and, as J.M.William`s notes in her essay "The Political Career of Francis Viscount Lovell (1456-?)" he left quite a lot to his younger sons, perhaps in the knowledge that John would eventually be heir to his mother`s, William`s wife Alice Deincourt`s, estates and wealth. Nothing about the provisions in the will is out of the ordinary; and while it does not note what exactly was left to John, this is a problem for researchers trying to find out what he owned, and would not have been too much of a problem at the time, as everything not explicitly bequeathed to something else would have fallen to him.

There are two notable features of the will and its codicils; both showing a curious distinction between William`s eldest son John and the three younger ones. While the will repeatedly names William, Robert and Henry, and they are clearly identified by William as "sonne", it never once mentions John by name, and never identifies him as William`s son. When mentioned, he is only "my next heire", in stark contrast to the flowery and often repetitive language used in writing at the time and also elsewhere in the will.

Secondly, notably, William chose to leave a "Bedd of Bawdekyn with qwischens and thapparrell thereto", a valuable item, not to his firstborn but to his second-born, William.

While this could well be simply an oddity, explained perhaps by there being no need of mentioning John very often as his inheritance stood and did not need to be clarified, and him already being in possession of an equally valuable personal item as was left to William, there are other instances of John Lovell being treated strangely by his family.

The most notable of these is found in an action by John`s only son, Francis.  When, during Richard III`s reign, he was granted license, together with his former guardian John of Suffolk and the Bishop of Lincoln, to found a fraternity, he chose to have masses said for his grandfather William rather than his father John. This is not only curious as John of Suffolk chose to have masses said for his father, and further instructions existed for masses to be said for "the King`s father", it is made even more notable by the fact that Francis, having only been born in 1456, never met his grandfather.

While Francis, having been only eight when his father died, may not have remembered him well, given his grandfather`s death day, this was clearly not the reason why he chose not to have masses said for him. Nor is it likely to have been a scribe getting John`s and William`s names getting mixed up, for while this is not categorically impossible, it is unlikely. It was not Francis`s father, John, who had the unusual name, but William. With the expection of him and Francis, all lords Lovell had been called John.

The reason for Francis`s decision not to have the masses read for his father is unknown. Even John`s Lancastrian leanings do not offer an explanation, for William Lovell shared those.

The behaviour of Francis`s sisters is also interesting. The youngest sister, Frideswide, who has been estimated to have been at least four or five, or possibly even up to seven, years younger than Francis, followed tradition and named a son - her first son - after her father. The older sister, Joan, born in around 1457 according to J.M.Williams, and therefore around a year younger than Francis, did not. Despite otherwise choosing traditional names for her children (her oldest boy being named after her husband), she did not follow it to call one after John.

This does not have to be significant at all, of course. Perhaps Joan simply disliked the name “John” for aesthetic reasons, or named the son who was meant to be called after her father after a saint in thanksgiving instead. However, it is notable that the two siblings, Francis and Joan, who would have been old enough to remember their father after his death, showed no signs of traditional behaviour of remembrance from what evidence we have.

Finally, it seems that John`s wife Joan Beaumont, did not mourn his death a lot. Before even her traditional year of mourning after his death was up, she had married William Stanley, younger brother of Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby. This may well have been for political reasons, though the speed with which she remarried is of note.

With the exception of Francis choosing not to have masses said for him instead of his grandfather, all of this could well be only insignificant oddities by themselves, but together, a picture emerges of John Lovell being less than beloved by his family.

Why this was, we have no indication. Whether he was a drinker and deemed to be an embarrassment to his family, a gambler, possibly violent and abusive to wife and children, we cannot tell. We can just tell that something was wrong between John Lovell and his family.

Saturday, 4 March 2017


Only two letters Francis Lovell wrote survive to this day. Both are short missives to William Stonor, one written on 24th June 1482, the other on 15th October 1483, requesting Stonor to meet him with troops to fight rebels joining Buckingham`s Rebellion. (Stonor was, in fact, in league with the rebels, a fact Francis was unaware of.)

This second letter is, amongst others, reproduced in Charles Ross`s biography of Richard III. One very notable feature of it is that it is autographed by Francis himself, giving us a glimpse of what his handwriting looked like.

The bit on the right stating "Your hertely lovyng Cosyn ffraunceys Lovell", composed in a different hand than the rest of the letter, almost certainly written by a scribe, was penned by Francis himself. Up close, his signature looked like this.

Quite interesting in itself for how measured it is and for the heartshaped "s" at the end of "ffraunceys", there is another aspect of note to it, when one compares it to the handwriting of his famous best friend, Richard III - the first depicting it alongside that of his wife, the second being from a book he signed in his teens.

While there are certain similarities in the handwritings of the two men, those become really noticable in the note written in Richard III`s Book of Hours:

This note, reading "hac die natus erat Ricardus Rex Anglie tertius Apud Foderinyay Anno domini mlccccliio" - "on this day King Richard III of England was born in Fotheringhay in the Year of the Lord 1452" - shows "ff"s, "y"s, "ns" and "h"s nearly identical to the way Francis formed them in his signature, along some other similarities.

Which suggests that either, the two men were taught calligraphy by the same person while in the care of the Earl of Warwick, or else - the far more unlikely theory - that it was Francis, not Richard, who wrote this note in the king`s Book of Hours.